Mowing seems simple enough, but each time you cut your grass you’re paving the way for your lawn’s success or failure. Mow correctly, and you’ll groom turf that’s healthy, drought-tolerant and thick enough to crowd out weeds. Mow incorrectly, and your lawn will struggle to survive. Time mows so you’re never removing more than one-third of the total leaf surface (of a single grass blade) with each cutting.
Scalping your lawn simply means cutting it too short. Think of it as if we were to shave too closely. A scalped lawn is vulnerable to diseases and weed infestation. Scalped grass tends to be weak and sparse, which exposes soil. One of the No. 1 contributors to weed success is exposed soil that allows weed seed to take root. A sparse lawn also lets sunlight reach weed seedlings and give them a boost. Grass that’s consistently cut too short has a poorly developed root system, which makes the lawn more susceptible to serious damage from drought or high temperatures.
Keep your mower blade sharp to get the best results from each mowing. A sharp blade cuts grass cleanly, while a dull blade tears grass, creating a jagged, uneven edge. These tears create openings for pests and diseases to enter grass blades. A lawn that has been cut with a dull blade develops a whitish or brown hue as the tips of individual grass blades die back. Sharpen blades at least a few times during the mowing season. Avoid mowing over thick branches or stones to reduce blade dulling or even damage. Consider purchasing an extra mower blade, so that you always have a sharp blade at the ready.
Adjust mower height throughout the growing season. For instance, shift the cutting deck higher in summer and allow grass to grow longer. Taller grass helps shade soil, which prevents weed growth and slows water evaporation from soil. Taller grass also develops deeper roots, which creates a lawn that can withstand drought better. In late autumn, in regions where winter brings snow cover, lower the cutting deck for the last mowing of the season to help prevent snow mold from forming on grass.
Lawns that grow in shady areas benefit from a higher mowing height. Longer grass blades have a greater surface area for conducting photosynthesis. In a low-light situation, this is a great benefit and a secret to growing a healthy lawn in the shade.
Ideally, mow when grass is dry. Mowing a wet lawn doesn’t harm the grass, but it doesn’t yield the best results. Wet grass fills and clogs a mower deck. It also has a tendency to fall over and clump together as you mow, creating an uneven cut. Watch for clumps of wet grass that fall off the mower. Remove these from the lawn after mowing to avoid killing grass. Always avoid mowing in soggy soil, or you risk creating wheel ruts and tearing up grass. If you must mow the lawn when it’s damp, treat the underside of your mower with oil or silicone spray to help prevent grass from sticking. Also, make sure your mower blade is sharp to avoid ripping grass out of soil.
When you prune a plant, it causes stress. Grass is no different. The act of mowing creates tremendous stress on grass plants. If you mow during the heat of the day, individual grass plants lose more water and recover much more slowly than if you mow during the cooler part of the day. Another option is to wait until shade is on the lawn. Grass in the shade loses less water when cut and is quicker to rebound.
Create a flat edging along your lawn beside driveways, walks and planting areas. When mowing, roll a wheel of the mower on this edging, and you’ll never have to string trim edges. Use any number of materials to create your edging, including bricks, gravel, concrete pavers or something similar.
When you let grass clippings lie on the lawn after cutting, that’s called grasscycling. It not only saves you time (no more bagging clippings), but it also saves money (no more yard waste bags or fees). Grass clippings can provide up to 25 percent of your lawn’s fertilizer needs, so you’ll save some dough on fertilizer, too. You don’t need a specialized mulching mower, although you might want to replace your current mower blade with a mulching blade, which cuts grass into smaller pieces that decompose quickly. You can grasscycle with minimal fuss and mess. To avoid being sprayed with grass clippings while mowing, purchase an adaptor kit for your mower that supplies a plug to fill the hole where clippings normally exit the mower deck. Look for universal kits online or from stores that sell mowers.
Grasscycling works best with grass that’s mowed frequently and when only one-third of the grass blade length has been removed. Longer grass needs to be raked or collected in a bag attachment. You can grasscycle turf that’s grown too long if you’re willing first to cut it, and second to rake out the clippings and mow over them to chop them finely.
Avoid mowing in the same direction or pattern each time you mow. When you do this, you risk compacting soil and actually creating ruts. Both compacted soil and ruts can lead to grass that’s less healthy, followed by weeds that thrive in compacted soil.
Use care when mowing on a slope — even a mild one. Never mow a slope when grass is wet. That creates slippery footing that can lead to serious injuries. To mow a slope safely, push the mower across the slope, not up and down. With short or small slopes, sometimes it’s easier to use a whipper snipper to cut grass. For steep slopes, consider replacing grass with a low-maintenance ground cover.